Spurs stage comeback to see off Leeds
It wasn't pretty, but Antonio Conte's first home Premier League game in charge of Tottenham ends in a 2-1 victory
22 November, 2021 — By Dan Carrier at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
TOTTENHAM 2 (Hojbjerg 58, Reguilon 69)
LEEDS UNITED 1 (James 44)
IN days recently past, this would have been another deflating defeat – another poor performance, and another case of fringe Tottenham players bodging their auditions.
Instead, after 45 minutes that illustrated the enormity of the job Antonio Conte faces to drag Spurs back to Champions League levels, something happened to this poorly assembled football team.
A goal down and with Leeds flying, Conte dragged his charges up a level. It wasn’t pretty, but it lead to a second half rally where goals by Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon brought victory.
Speaking after the game, Conte said he had not thrown the book at his stuttering stars at half time – but had quietly reminded them of their own strengths.
The Spurs’ boss added: “Between the first half and the second half we changed it tactically, and also had the right words for the players because in this kind of situation it’s not good to shout, but to have a good chat to show confidence. I trust these players, and they know this.”
After seeing his players respond to another tough challenge, Conte continued: “It means this team has character, has personality. When you do this, after a first half where you struggle a lot, it means that the players have character.”
And as well as his half time magic, Conte managed to create a bond between those on the pitch and those in the stands in a manner that has not been seen at Spurs for at least two years.
With 10 minutes to go, and Spurs holding on, the home crowd of 59,000 were restless and needed reminding why they had come to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in the first place.
Conte, always animated, suddenly stopped barking instructions to his players, and turned to the fans. With a rabid look on his face and manic body language, he whipped all four corners of the stadium up: he told the supporters the players needed them, and they responded.
The atmosphere flipped from one of trepidation – the players looking nervous, and fans expecting the worst – to one of determination. Chants and songs echoed, and Tottenham found that extra yard.
It was a telling sign of Conte’s belief that the club needs to remember we are all on the same side again.
This was Conte’s Premier League home debut, and his hand was weakened by the loss of the two standout players so far this season. Oliver Skipp, suspended, was replaced with Harry Winks, while Cristian Romero picked up a hamstring injury on international duty, giving Japhet Tanganga a starting berth.
Both Romero and Skipp have been the only really consistent players this term, and their absence was telling early on as Leeds came out firing. They dominated the early exchanges, creating chances and enjoying possession.
It was no surprise when Leeds took the lead on the stroke of half time. Emerson Royal lost the ball under pressure to Jack Harrison and could not recover. Harrison whipped a dangerous low cross between the Spurs centre backs saw Dan James, who poked home.
Half time could not have come quick enough. But for the opening five minutes of the second period, it felt like whatever Conte had said to his players had fallen on deaf ears.
Leeds won and wasted a series of corners – and as they searched for a game-killing second, Spurs hit them on the counter.
A move started by Hugo Lloris and prodded along via Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Winks and then Reguilon saw Tottenham open Leeds up. After the visitors failed to clear a cross, Lucas Moura regained possession and tee’d up Hojbjerg to scuff a shot home from inside the box.
Leeds had played with plenty of vim up to that point, but they were deflated by the equaliser and failed to lift tiring legs. Spurs took advantage and began to exert a modicum of control.
The winner came on 68 minutes. Moura, always inviting the foul with his close control, danced centrally and was up-ended on the edge of the box. Eric Dier’s free-kick was deflected on to the far post and only Reguilon was alive to the loose ball. He tucked home what would turn out to be the winner.
It was, on balance, deserved. But Spurs showed a lack of game control and won this match through a mix of sheer will, a coach who wasn’t accepting of what he saw, and a young Leeds team who set a fast pace but lacked the stamina or depth on the bench to keep it up.
It was not pretty, but right now, any win will do.
Tottenham: Lloris, Tanganga (Sanchez, 67), Dier, Davies, Royal, Reguilon (Sessegnon, 78), Hojbjerg, Winks, Moura (Alli, 89), Son, Kane
Substitutes not used: Gollini, Doherty, Gil, Rodon, Bergwijn, Ndombele
Leeds United: Meslier, Llorente, Cooper, Phillips, Forshaw (Roberts, 72), Struijk, Kilch (Firpo, 58), Dallas, Harrison, James, Gelhardt (McKinstry, 86).
Substitutes not used: Klaesson, Cresswell, Drameh, Greenwood, McCarron, Jenkins